Doctor Dolittle in the Moon, by Hugh Lofting

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Yes, she had seen the tree, she [Polynesia the parrot] told us, but it still seemed a long way off. The Doctor wanted to know why she had taken so long in coming down and she said she had been making sure of her bearings so that she would be able to act as guide. Indeed, with the usual accuracy of birds, she had a very clear idea of the direction we should take. And we set off again, feeling more at ease and confident.

I picked this up two weeks ago during an insomniac spell and of course read it very quickly – it’s a very short book, the eighth of the series of twelve books about the Doctor who learns to talk to animals.

The writer assumes that the reader has read the previous books in the series, particularly the immediately preceding Doctor Dolittle’s Garden which apparently ends with the Doctor and friends borne to the Moon by a giant moth. So we start bang in the middle of the narrative, with no explanation of who any of the characters are or why they are doing what they are doing’ it’s a bit unnerving.

Then we get to the Moon, which owes a certain amount to Lucian of Samosata, with a couple of updates to take account of contemporary scientific knowledge (the lighter gravity, the shorter distance to the horizon; though by the 1920s it was pretty clear that there was no beathable atmosphere, let alone lush vegetation). The Doctor leantrs to talk to lunar plants, applying the techniques he has long employed for animals on Earth. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the race-memory of the formation of the moon passed down to the monkey Chee-Chee and the true identity of the Man in the Moon. It’s interesting to note that the plants of the moon submit to a centrally planned schedule of reproduction so as to avoid exhausting their world’s natural resources, but probably this should be read as vaguely utopian rather than anything more specific.

Readers in Australia can access the whole thing here.